International Women's Day: How and Why We Celebrate

It’s annoying that International Women’s Day gets a mere whisper compared to the retail shout-out that Mothers’ Day receives in this country. Although I’m not a big holiday/ritual/ceremony kinda girl (no, you can’t ignore my birthdays), I do think this particular annual event is special, so I try to celebrate each year.

Let’s start with some history.

In February, 1909, following a march for labor rights by many thousands of women workers the year before, the Socialist Party of America declared International Women’s Day (IWD) in the United States. The next year, at the Second International, in Copenhagen, women from 11 countries adopted the Day in the hopes of furthering women’s suffrage.

In 1911, over a million women and men marked the Day around the world, but only a week later the crime known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire took the lives of over 140 women in the rag trade -– mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants –- and the struggle against sweatshop conditions became forever associated with IWD.

Russian women imprinted their own radicalism on IWD in 1917 when their strike for “bread and peace” over the death of two million Russian soldiers led to the abdication of the Czar and governmental embrace of women’s voting rights.

Soon the UN adopted International Women’s Day and in 1975, in recognition of the second wave of feminism, held a global International Women’s Year. This meant that, just like the men, we could gather from around the world, compromise bitterly after difficult debate (say, over the inclusion of queers or abortion rights), make resolutions that no one is entirely happy with and be unable to get our governments to put any resources into meeting the goals, anyway. Wow, finally we’ve got a seat at the table of world-level frustration.

While there’s hardly even an official murmur in the States over IWD, there is a website that lists an exhilarating range of world locations and activities -– giving the sense that International Women’s Day is not as moribund elsewhere as it seems to be here. This website keeps a tally of events (and provides the photos I’ve used in this posting), including the following.

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